Machines of Loving Grace--Dancing in the Gloom : This nihilistic band sounds bummed out enough to be British. It isn’t.
The Machines of Loving Grace come across like the Marines of Loving Grace with a Hersey bar in one hand and an M-16 in the other--but with a song in their stout little hearts. These Machinists play aggressive techno rock just right for a slam pit full of Terminators giving goose-stepping lessons to an army of little weirdos in black.
The band will be making its second appearance at the venerable Ventura Theatre on Sunday night. Also on the bill will be the musical bazaar of the bizarre, My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult.
The four Machinists and their pals, many of whom are machines, will be playing selections from their latest album “Concentration,” just out on Mammoth Records.
So do they just stride onstage, flip a switch, let the machines do all the work while they troll for potential horizontal performers? Not really, according to singer Scott Benzel.
“With the live show, there’s machines, but there’s also live bass, drums and guitars,” he said. “There’s some sequence loops but nothing on tape, and 90% of what you hear is performed live.”
So as far as this week’s happening popular music genres go, the Machines seem to have all the bases covered. They do a little bit of everything, all of which ends up perfectly danceable.
“We’re pretty much an electronic band with industrial and hip-hop influences,” Benzel said. “Industrial is a term that’s loosely applied to certain kinds of music, like grunge is. Industrial is misused a lot, but I think it describes a harder kind of electronic music. I’ve always been influenced by a lot of the Wax Trax bands.”
“Concentration” songs may indeed result in an outbreak of happy feet, but happy hearts? Probably not. The album cover, looking like a pin-up out of “Hellraiser,” shows a guy bound with barbed wire. Ouch.
There’s a song about a corporate drone in the wrong corporation, Albert Speer, and other relentless rockers have titles such as “Trigger for Happiness” and “If I Should Explode.” It’s almost music to hang yourself by, and if junior cranked it up sufficiently, the parents would probably willingly demonstrate some new knots.
“I guess we are sort of a depressive bunch,” said Benzel. “This album was written when we were having trouble with the record company and also during the last election. We’re all miserable and we hate our lives.”
The band took its name from a line in a poem by Richard Brautigan. The dead poet made a bad career move in 1984, when he committed suicide in the Hemingway style. Wanna dance? These nihilists with a beat sound bummed out enough to be British. They’re not.
They’re desert rats from Arizona, a place known for pickup trucks, skinny ties and pointed shoes. When Yes tours the Southwest, they change their name to Yup. Many Arizona bands have that twang thang, and industrial bands from Arizona are about as scarce as blondes on Kong Island after Faye Wray went home.
“A lot of the bands in Arizona share a number of similarities; but obviously we don’t fit in,” said Benzel. “Most of those bands don’t have a lot to do with what we’re doing. There’s not really much of a scene for us around Tucson. We’ve probably only played around there five or six times. The band just came together accidentally, and one of our songs got picked up by a local deejay. Things just started happening. It was just a string of happy accidents.”
The band members met at the University of Arizona, where Benzel was a film student. For a film project that was never finished, Benzel brought in keyboard player Mike Fisher to help with the soundtrack. Next, Fisher brought in Stuart Kupers to play guitar. Drummer Brad Kemp completed the lineup. Then instead of schmoozing, showcasing, lugging all that heavy equipment around or even finishing Benzel’s film, the band sat around in Fisher’s bedroom, which doesn’t sound like much of a career plan at all.
“We recorded our first album entirely in a studio in Mike’s bedroom,” Benzel said. “We had never played live; in fact, we had never played live when we got signed. I think there are a lot of ways to get signed. For us, Rich Hopkins of the Sidewinders--a band we like but have never played with--hooked us up with our record label, because they used to be on Mammoth. Our first album was basically just an eight-track demo. Our first gig was in 1991 at the Palace in Hollywood with Pigface. Our second gig was at a lobster restaurant in San Diego. I remember the sign said ‘Lobster Tails & The Machines of Loving Grace.’ ”
They can almost afford lobster these days as “Concentration” is cruising right up those college charts. This one was recorded in a real studio, with a real producer, Roli Mosimann, who has worked with, among others, New Order. And the studio was much larger than Fisher’s bedroom.
“We’re in this studio with 40 more tracks than we’d had before, and I just freaked out in this huge room in the studio,” said Benzel. “I couldn’t sing there, so I recorded the vocals at Mike’s house. Roli was really cool--a psychopath--but he’s great. He helped us stay focused and to define our sound and to decide what works and what doesn’t.”
Bill Locey writes regularly on rock ‘n’ roll for Ventura County Life.